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TOUSSAINT L'OVERTURE

Haitian patriot and martyr (1744-1803)

There had been slave revolts before: in the Caribbean, in South America, and in North America.  But none would be as fantastic as the Great Haitian Slave Revolt.  In 1791, the small French colony's half-million African slaves set fire to plantations, and began the largest slave revolt in history.  Of all the rebels, none would be so remembered as a short, grey-haired man who in a few years turned a rebellion into a revolution: Francois Dominique Toussaint L'Overture. 

Though not a participant in the beginning fires which marked the start of the revolt, he quickly became its greatest soldier.  Joining the tattered rebel army, Touissant trained the disorganized Black slaves into hardened troops.  Holding up his musket in defiance, he told Haitian slaves, "Here is your liberty!"  He then took the field as an ally of Spain against France then as an ally of France against England and Spain, thus playing the competing European powers against each other.  A superb military general, Toussaint managed to defeat the English army causing over 40,000 casualties.  He was even responsible for defeating the armies of that period's greatest conqueror, Napoleon Bonaparte. 

Tricked into accepting an invitation from a French General to discuss matters of state, Toussaint was captured by French forces.  Napoleon, taking no chances, locked him in a medieval fortress high in the Jura Alps of the French-Swiss borders.  Upon hearing of his capture Haiti, once again erupted into revolt.  In the name of Toussaint the cry was "War for war, crime for crime, atrocity for atrocity!" Led by Toussaint's successor, the military genius Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the Haitian soldiers defeated the French and gained independence for their island nation in November, 1803.  Toussaint, however, would not live to see the day.  Eight months earlier, the short Black general who electrified the world, whose name was on the lips of everyone from the enslaved Blacks of America to the royalty of Europe, passed away in captivity.  His contributions to the cause of Black liberty would inspire many for generations to come. 

Revised: July 18, 2013.